By Kevin Meyer
It's been a busy week – both Bill and I presented at the Lean Accounting Summit. Believe it or not it's the one time a year when we spend a few minutes comparing notes, plans, and who is threatening to sue us for some of our blog posts. Some good laughs all around.
An article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday told us about something most of us have long felt – we are spending more time on paperwork. Useless? Perhaps. But more on that in a minute.
The effort needed to comply with federal bureaucracy now has a number. According to new government estimates released this week, Americans spent 8.8 billion hours filling out government forms in fiscal 2010.
The good news? That's lower than the 9.8 billion hours logged the previous year. The bad news? The drop is mostly due to a change in how federal agencies estimate how long it takes to complete their paperwork.
In all, the paperwork burden has increased by around 19% over the past decade, up from 7.4 billion hours in fiscal 2000, the White House Office of Management and Budget said.
It's not really an issue of political party – but government in general. Both sides are responsible.
Between 2002 and 2005, federal agencies reported significant increases in paperwork demands. Republicans controlled Congress and the White House for almost all that period. In 2005, laws including the Bush administration's Medicare prescription-drug overhaul, created what is now estimated to be an extra 250 million paperwork hours.
At the same time, the biggest single-year jump in the past decade came in 2010, when individuals and businesses spent an extra 352 million hours responding to paperwork requests from agencies prompted by new statutory requirements. Last year, employers needed almost 70 million additional hours to claim a new credit for hiring more workers, and restaurants spent 14.5 million hours to display calorie counts for their menus, according to figures submitted to OMB by the departments of the Treasury and Health and Human Services. In fact, the Treasury was the source of most of the paperwork burden in 2010, hitting 6.4 billion hours, or 73%.
Unbelievable. The article points out that if you value an hour at $20, which is far below what most organizations value an hour after adding burden for employer-side taxes, benefits, and support infrastructure like the building they work in, then the cost is $171 billion.
That's the cost to fill out the forms. But here's my real question: what is done with the forms? Is everything on a form really necessary? There is a cost to store them, and almost hopefully there's a cost to actually analyze and do something with the data. Or do they just sit in a file cabinet or computer memory somewhere?
What is the point of a form if it is not used? $171 billion to fill them out… how many billion to scan and store them… and perhaps, just perhaps, analyze and do something with the data?
And we wonder where we can find some money to cut out of the budget. And don't smirk too much – take a look around you at your own organizations. I bet you're doing the same thing to your employees.